By Christie Keith
Universal Press Syndicate
The list of ways dogs have helped humans throughout history is almost endless.
They've guarded livestock, herded sheep, driven cattle and protected human dwellings from castles to condos. Dogs assist people with disabilities, sniff out illegal drugs and find food from birds to truffles. From detecting heart attacks and seizures before they happen to dragging drowning people to safety, it's hard to imagine any form of technology that could surpass the uncountable number of ways in which dogs lend us a helping paw.
In selectively breeding dogs for the skills that helped them help us, human beings have changed the dog both inside and out. Today, there are hundreds of dog breeds so different from each other in type that it's hard to believe they're members of the same species -- and yet, each of these dogs' forms grew out of a specific function.
"If people hadn't changed the dog to do certain tasks, he'd look very much like the dingo," said Heather Russell-Revesz, co-author of the "World Atlas of Dog Breeds" (TFH, $100). "Whether it was making a dog shorter-legged or faster, so he could catch a specific kind of prey, or making him tiny enough to sit on your lap, human intervention has brought an incredible diversity of type to the dog."
Not all the changes were about function. For example, when it became clear how easily the dog's physical appearance could be changed by human breeding choices, dog breeders in Victorian England became interested in seeing just how extreme those changes could be.
"Look at the bulldog," said Russell-Revesz. "He's about as different from a 'natural breed' like the dingo as a dog can be. His face is flat; his legs are short and bowed. Another example is the field spaniel. The Victorians took a functional hunting dog and started breeding him smaller and smaller, until his legs were so short he could hardly walk, let alone hunt. He very nearly became extinct, until fanciers in the 1930s began to select for a less extreme dog."
Basics such as breathing and walking aside, even dogs originally developed to help humans in hunting, farm chores or family protection are increasingly out of a job in modern times. World War II threatened the existence of many dog breeds, because it was impossible to continue breeding or even feeding dogs during the war, and afterward, because human lifestyles changed profoundly in the post-war era.
"Many dog breeds were wiped out, and others were on the brink of extinction," Russell-Revesz said. "Their traditional work was largely obsolete, and it was only the extraordinary dedication of a few individuals that preserved the amazing legacy of traditional dog breeds."
Of course, not all canine work is obsolete. Dogs today are being bred for many of their traditional tasks, as well as new ones. And some dogs, once rendered unemployed by new technology, are being rehired. "When snowmobiles were introduced, the Greenland dog was out of favor as a reindeer herder," she said. "But it turns out that reindeer don't respond well to being herded by snowmobiles. It turns out the dogs are more useful than the machines -- and more environmentally friendly."
A Greyhound's long legs and great lung capacity or the insatiable urge to dig shared by the terriers may be a case of form following function. But there are 420 different breeds in the World Atlas, and the authors acknowledge they didn't list every breed. And yet it includes 30 French scent hounds, from the familiar bassett hound to the now-extinct levesque. Does any nation need 30 different types of scent hounds?
But then, of course, the French celebrate the regional differences in their cheese and wine, so why not the ones in their dogs?
Russell-Revesz laughed. "Depending on the prey, the terrain and the climate, they may have needed different-length legs or more or less coat. But the truth is that each region took great pride in its local hounds and wanted to have their own."
Safe breathing for birds on the road
Q: I'm moving next month, driving a rented truck halfway across the country along with my dog and parrot. My dog's a seasoned traveler, but I worry about my bird. I know some motels and hotels let pets in, but I am worried about the cleaning supplies they use. I don't want my bird to breathe in anything bad. Any advice? -- L.G., via e-mail
A: You'll have no problem finding a hotel, that's for sure. The AAA travel guide lists lodgings that accept pets -- and there are lots of them -- but recently even more hotels and motels have been accepting pets. In a poor economy, they just don't want to turn any customers away, not even the feathered and furred ones.
Strong cleaning supplies can be a problem, but I think you'll be OK with a sniff test. Change rooms, or even hotels, if the smell of cleaning supplies is strong. If you can barely smell the chemicals, put your bird's cage near an open window so he can get some fresh air.
Whatever you do, be careful when traveling with your pets, because they can easily be lost forever if they get loose. Your dog may already be microchipped and tagged, but is your bird chipped? Pet birds are typically chipped in the padded part of their breast. Talk to your veterinarian about getting a chip put in your bird before you leave.
And ask about a referral to a new vet where you're headed: Veterinarians who specialize in birds aren't all that common, and your vet may well be able to recommend one in your new hometown.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars." Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Value of pets not just as 'property'
-- A New Jersey appeals court issued a precedent-setting decision when it ruled that a pet's "special subjective value" to its owner should be considered in custody cases. According to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the opinion reverses a trial court's decision that pets are personal property lacking in the unique values typically associated with heirlooms, family treasures and works of art that induce a strong sentimental attachment.
-- Collisions between birds and airplanes have quadrupled since 1990 amid increasing air traffic and growing wildlife populations. According to The Wall Street Journal, the 10 airports with the most wildlife strikes are Denver, Dallas/Fort Worth, Memphis, Tenn., Kansas City, Mo., Cleveland, New Orleans, La., New York (JFK), Sacramento, Calif., Chicago (O'Hare) and Portland, Ore.
-- The use of honey for medicinal purposes dates back to early civilizations of the Sumerians and the Egyptians, according to The New York Times. Clay tablets from around 2,000 B.C. describe the Sumerians' use of honey mixed with grease as a salve for pierced earlobes and surgical incisions. Out of 700 healing formulas found written on papyrus in Egyptian tombs, 147 call for honey as one of the principle healing agents.
-- When families take a vacation this summer, are pets left behind at risk of a hurricane? Tornado? Earthquake? Wildfire? SustainLane.com examined the 50 largest U.S. cities, assessed natural disaster risks and found the two cities that tied for the least risk were Mesa, Ariz., and Milwaukee, Wis. They were followed by Cleveland, Phoenix, Tucson, Ariz., and El Paso, Texas. The most dangerous city was Miami, followed by New Orleans, La., Oakland, Calif., San Francisco and Honolulu. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
Great lizard pets for beginners
They don't purr like a cat or fetch like a dog. They have neither soft fur nor pleading eyes. But for a lot of people, reptiles and amphibians are perfect pets.
But which of these pets is best for a beginner? Because they can grow to 6 feet in length, iguanas are not suitable for any but the most dedicated of pet lovers. Here are a few relatively low-maintenance reptiles for the first-time owner:
-- Bearded dragon. Their tough looks are appealing, but this lizard's attitude is anything but nasty. Although babies can be flighty, adult beardies, when calmly and gently handled, are gentle pets who can live for 12 to 15 years.
-- Leopard gecko. A popular ad campaign for an insurance company has drawn attention to these nocturnal lizards. Fortunately, they're good pets and tolerate gentle handling well. They're smaller than the bearded dragons, about 6 inches long, and they can live for a decade or so.
-- Corn snake. Captive breeding has produced wonderful colors and color variations, but all corn snakes tend to be calm pets that rarely try to bite, require minimal care and can live for 20 years.
-- Ball python. Want something more exotic? Ball pythons mature at about 4 feet in length and love to hang around your neck. Fortunately, they're easily unwound: Start at the tail and gently unwind.
Deal with a reputable source for reptiles, and buy a captive-bred pet only. And be sure you've done your research into housing, care and feeding. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
Spending on cats
How much do we spend on our cats? The average annual costs in 2007-2008, according to a survey of cat owners:
Surgical Vet Visits $363
Kennel Boarding $149
Routine Vet $175
Groomer/Grooming Aids $18
Source: American Pet Products Association
Keep pet bowls cleaned daily
No matter how thoroughly your pet licks clean the food dish, it's not clean enough to use again without washing. That goes for water dishes, too, some of which always seem to have the beginnings of algae colonies forming on the sides and the bottom. Who'd want to drink from that?
Pick up your pet's food dish after every meal, scrub and wash in hot water and soap. The water dish should get the same treatment, on a daily basis. You may find it easier with the water dishes to have extras, so your pet will have access to one clean bowl while the other's being washed.
Stainless steel or heavy plastic "crock-style" dishes are best for frequent cleaning. They last through generations of pets and stand up well to the abuse a pet can dish out. And they can even be run through the hottest cycle of the dishwasher. -- Gina Spadafori
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.